Imagine a surrealist tableau of birds slowly melting and falling to the ground. A woman carrying a little boy, her legs dissolving with every step. A bride, treading in agony, through roots and weeds. The overture from Tristan and Isolde as the sole sound to accompany this odd, deeply depressing image in your head.So begins Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s latest effort, which won Kirsten Dunst – more than deservingly – the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Festival.
The movie is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled ‘Justine’ and focuses on Dunst’s character, a talented art director about to get married to Michael (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard), a handsome fellow, who’s also a walking straight-laced cliché. The evening is crowned by the odd appearance of a red star in the sky, which Justine notices before walking into the isolated château where the ‘festivities’ are about to take place. Her sister’s husband, John (played as a pedantic daddy-figure by Kiefer Sutherland) says that this is the star Antares. By the end of the wedding the star is no longer visible, thus predicting the inevitable doom.
The second part of the movie is entitled ‘Claire’ and focuses on Justine’s sister (a heart-breaking Charlotte Gainsbourg). The events in this part of the movie take place after the wedding, when Justine is already so deeply sunk into depression that she can no longer care for herself. Claire can’t help but worry about this mysterious ‘fly-by’ planet, coincidentally named Melancholia, that is threatening to collide into the Earth. John reassures her that this is impossible, but both Claire and Justine know something fatal is about to happen. However, while Justine grows more and more calm and stable about The End, it is Claire who now begins to sink into a state of perpetual sadness and worry. “The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it,” Justine tells her sister while trying to explain that life is only on Earth, and so we are unconditionally alone. However, while Claire is afraid and doesn’t want to die, Justine is welcoming Melancholia; she is almost driven to ecstasy by the idea of this mysterious body penetrating the Earth.
The women in the film are portrayed as more open to nature and more intuitive to its goings on than men. All the male characters are shown as weak. Michael leaves Justine, and then her seemingly jolly father also abandons her in her deepest moment of despair. Later, John leaves Claire and their son, Leo (Cameron Spurr) as well. When the end comes, Justine, Claire and Leo are there to face it together.
To say Melancholia is a film about the end of the world is an understatement. For one, Kirsten Dunst’s and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performances alone can make for an intriguing essay about the human condition. Von Trier’s brush strokes paint a portrait of depression, surrounded by deep melancholia, denial, fear, and a weak attempt for a return to normalcy. The film’s path is circular – like Melancholia circling the Earth in the Dance of Death. Just as you are made aware of the ending from the beginning, the movie make its point: some things are more powerful than you.
By Radina Papukchieva
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